The PhD and side quests

A while ago I read a tweet http://researchblog.iclon.nl/phd-side-quests-teaching/  likening various distractions (like teaching) to a side quest in a multiplayer online game. Even though I’m part time on my PhD and full time teaching, I find this tweet still resonated with me. At present I feel very stretched- full time academic teaching load, additional (short term) administrative role, part time PhD student, and Mum- it’s always busy and every minute is precious in each role. When I do have blocked time for my PhD analysis and writing I feel like if I am not writing actual words into a chapter that somehow I am not working effectively enough, then I realised I had to change my personal PhD narrative if I was going to do this to the best of my ability. Let me explain…

A few weeks ago I was up to day 5 of what would be a 2 week lack of motivation for my studies. I felt tired, overwhelmed and frustrated that this sacred writing time was being wasted while I looked up new references, read over old data and tried to re-envision my literature review while writing a data chapter. I was thinking about changing the chapter structure of the thesis to follow themes rather than data sets, this was going to be a huge shift. There was textas, A3 paper, muttering and scribbling. Mendeley was getting a workout as I uploaded and annotated more articles. I was busy, but didn’t feel like I was making progress visible to anyone else. I briefly considered walking away from the PhD- but am so close to being finished I know I would regret it. By day 5 I realised the truth- I was caught up in a side quest! As my thesis links to games, learning and aspects of motivation, I realised I was living the kinds of scenarios I had been researching for the last few years; what motivates a person to push past this point, where it all seems too hard to manage? I looked to my data, and my own personal side quests- my craft and other blogs. If you follow these blogs : one mad tatter and My WISE Dolls, you may notice that my whole life in recent years is chipping away at various goals over a longer period of time. It isn’t about being motivated to complete a project in one day, and my thesis is another such project.  I realised that I needed to be my own advocate, and so I gave myself permission to just be- to leave the actual writing of my chapter for a few days and go on a side quest of reading and thinking. This took me another week or so, but after this time I felt again in a position to edit and write some more. Last week I sent the finished chapter to my advisory group for feedback- and it felt like an epic win!

The side quest was an important part of the journey, of narrowing down the new articles to those that could be used to support my data and the unfolding story in my thesis. The ‘re-envisioning’ of the thesis was also deemed a side quest, confirming that the chapter structure I have drafted over the last 2 years will work better for my thesis than the one in my clouded mind a few weeks ago. While these two processes didn’t make a visible difference to my writing and work so far, they have helped me to think through my options and make firm choices on the direction of my thesis, and so this clarity of mind makes the side quest worthwhile in my opinion. The PhD is as much about the thinking, pondering and analysing as it is about the written submission. I need to wander down some of the pathways to realise they are dead ends. And, even if I don’t feel like writing, there are lots of tasks to to that will contribute in different ways to the completed submission.

Some side quests might be setting up fonts, highlighting relevant data, creating images and labelling figures- they are important small tasks that support the end goal. These are what help build the thesis from the ground up, and no one else can do it for me; I have to own the whole quest, not just the fun bits 🙂 I need to remind myself of the work I have been doing towards this since 2011, for all intents and purposes I have done the hard yards; the planning, considering methodological protocols, completing ethics for university and education departments, approaching schools, and building relationships with principals, teachers and students in order to generate data on site. I have the conceptual framework in place and have identified the gaps in the research my study seeks to contribute to. I have come a long way in my writing and thinking, been supported by a fabulous team of family, friends and colleagues and really love my topic. With less than a year to go until submission, I need to remind myself “I’ve got this!” 🙂

I still need to recognise that some side quests are time sinks, and wont be helpful in the bigger scheme of things for the PhD goal. For example, my WISE Dolls site is exciting and will be great, but it doesn’t need to be the focus of my energy this year, it will be waiting for me to pick it up again next year. The same with some of my tatting design ideas and goals, these too will wait until I am on the other side of thesis submission. In recognising these as alternate side quests I can more easily make a clear decision to refocus my precious PhD time to the side quests really need my focus here and now.

So, it seems the side quest metaphor works for me, here is a link to a paper about such metaphors for PhD work (McCulloch, 2013)  http://w3.unisa.edu.au/researcheducation/contact/documents/mcculloch-2013.pdf
or perhaps the Map for the PhD student graphic (MGSE, 2012) http://education.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/621929/Map_for_the_PhD_Student.pdf might resonate with you. Whichever you decide, make sure you can identify for yourself what will be a productive use of your time, and keep your eye on the prize- that PhD 🙂
Until next time, happy questing
Fiona T
NB: It was also confirmed by my Wonderful Husband that this post is ironic- it was a side quest too. Now I have blogged it, it is completed [Achievement unlocked: 1084 words posted on PhD Blog] and I guess it’s back to the data for me 🙂

Healing blade- a biology card game.

This story started in 2011, when I first read about the “Healing blade card game” From Nerdcore in this blog: https://drottematic.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/review-healing-blade-the-infectious-disease-card-battle/.    I began to search for this game, knowing it would probably be too advanced for the VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education- Year 12) course I wanted to use it for. Healing blade was developed for Medical students to use as a learning tool- and this is what intrigued me the most, the information within this game wouldn’t be “dumbed down” or incorrect. To me, accuracy is a very important aspect of any game I would want to use as a learning tool.

Unfortunately, the game had a small initial print run and it took me quite a while to find out about the kickstarter movement and track down the print and play version. Late last year I received the newest version of the downloadable file. I was impressed with the quality of the card fronts and really wanted to print these out on card stock for my classes to work with. The months flew by, and the printing of the cards was pushed on down the priority list. Then the sudden realisation that I need the cards for my class this week hit me! So, I have compromised and printed out my card set on a normal photocopy paper. I spent a couple of hours yesterday cutting up the paper cards and backs and sliding them into plastic card holders (Thanks MindGames on Swanston St for your help in sizing the right ones).

Sometimes the work of teaching is ‘making’ the resources 🙂

Healing blade pic for blog

Now the game is ready to play.

Along with 6 other Biology based games, Healing blade will be considered by my students this week, and critiqued as a possible classroom tool.

I hope, in the coming weeks, that I will blog about our impressions of each of the 7 games we will critique, so stay tuned 🙂 (or link the RSS feed to your email, so you don’t miss out!)

Until next time,

Fiona T

 

Re-blog: The Happy PhD Zone: How To Maintain A Work-Life Balance In Academia – Next Scientist

I recently read this post over at Happy PhD zone, and it made me laugh, and think about my priorities at the moment too. I am trying to balance my time on weekends to make sure I recharge and spend time with my beautiful family. The PhD and a full time teaching load make for very busy week days. So, this blog is worth a look 🙂

The Happy PhD Zone: How To Maintain A Work-Life Balance In Academia – Next Scientist.

Until next time,

Fiona T

Re-Blog: 7 Smart Ways To Use Evernote For Research As A PhD – Next Scientist

OK- I still Love, Love, Love Evernote. It is one of my 3 technology saviours for my PhD and academic work (the other two are Dropbox and Mendeley) Here is a blog I read a while ago with some great tips for using Evernote to better organise your research. They had me very early on with the comparison to a ‘swiss army knife’… read on and enjoy 🙂

7 Smart Ways To Use Evernote For Research As A PhD – Next Scientist.

Until next time,

Fiona T

Dropbox update – MyPaperless PhD

Just a quick post today-

After thinking that I wasn’t saving to dropbox properly at work, I found the real problem was not closing the windows/programs I was working with on my laptop. I was inadvertently overwriting the work I did at work when I would open my laptop later in the day. Dropbox, being uber efficient, was updating the files fine 🙂 . I did find, by using opening my dropbox account on the web, that you can search previous versions of folders and files and re-instate the one you need- thanks dropbox.

I also recently upgraded my dropbox storage and began paying for this extra space- imagine my surprise when Dropbox announced last week they were upgrading all pro- storage to 1TB for no extra charge! Very happy with that 🙂

Until next time

Fiona T

Digital tools- Rocking my world

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a post-graduate research conference run by my Graduate School. It ran over 2 days, and I attended one of them. The day was fabulous and inspiring. We started with my fellow ‘shut up and writer’ and I running a modified ‘Shut up and Write’ session, so those who can’t normally make our weekday sessions could get a feel for how this works. We also hoped that they would perhaps join us during semester, or begin using this method on their own. I got to make a good start on a conference paper, so I was very happy 🙂 The feel from the others was very positive too. We also had some discussion groups based around our stage of study, and workshops on what examiners are looking for and publications for different audiences. All interesting and insightful.

The session that rocked my little world was the ‘taming your thesis with technology’ session. I have been looking for this session for the last few years.  The workshop leader was inspirational, and showed us a glimpse of the true power of the word-processing tools we have as standard installations on our computers. Setting up styles within documents, and using these to easily format tables of contents, figures and tables…let me just say it was an enthralling 2 hours. I have been generating small scale reports for my key stakeholders, and I know that even with these small documents, the tips from this workshop will save me much time and angst…I can only imagine how much time and angst will be saved when I put the sections of my thesis together 🙂  I still recall the nightmare of pulling my Masters’ Thesis together – reprinting and formatting to make sure the table of contents matched the actual headings and page locations, not to mention when I had to move a figure or section eeek…. I am very much looking forward to NOT having to do that again 🙂

By Renee and sourced from: http://kpc.am/11bBpds

By Renee and sourced from: http://kpc.am/11bBpds

Along with Mendeley, Evernote and dropbox, it seems my word processor will be another reliable digital tool for my studies.

I wonder, what tip, trick or tool is saving you time and angst? Please feel free to share in the comments below, or on the facebook page 🙂

Until next time

Fiona T

 

Paperless progress

A belated ‘Happy New Year’ to you all. Those who are regular followers will have noticed ‘My Paperless PhD’ has been very quiet since September least year. This is for a number of reasons, including actual progress in my PhD, working full time and working on conference papers too.

Today I had a ‘free’ half hour, so I thought it best used to give you a quick paperless update.

Since my confirmation of candidature in March last year, data gathering has been constant. I am using a range of data gathering tools, including interviews (recorded on my smartphone and backed up to a password protected cloud file) before being transcribed (using a program devised by Wonderful Husband- WH), and then also stored in a password protected file. Some parts of my data collection require paper, like the participants constructing Personal Meaning Making Maps (PMMM – based on Falk et al, 1997) which are drawn on A3 paper. These are then scanned and stored – you guessed it-  in a password protected file. I am finding it easier over time to correct my writing on the screen, though I do still print hard copies for final reading and editing. While not completely paperless I do feel like I am not using a forest to draft my work, and paper is used sparingly.

In terms of writing, I still find the ‘shut up and write’ pomodoro sessions very helpful, with our little group meeting on Friday morning for most of the year. These will start again soon, when semester gets back into swing.

In other news, 2 teacher friends of mine invited me to be a part of a review blog, aimed at Australian Parents  to find apps that will support their children in fun and learning too. Many apps reviewed so far are free, though the original idea was to assist parents in making informed choices in spending i-Tunes and similar cards. The blog is here: http://appsforaussiekids.blogspot.com.au  and the facebook page has a healthy following for being active for just under 10 days now. If this interests you, please follow along and support us – you may also want to suggest apps or write a guest post – email contact is available through the apps for aussie kids blog (on the right of the page).

I hope to be more active on this blog this year. I have many posts in mind…I just need time to write them!

Until next time

Fiona T

Reference:

Falk, J. H., Moussouri, T., & Coulson, D. (1997). The effect of Visotors’ agendas on Museum Learning. Curator, 41(2), 107–120.

“Successful Science Education Practices” a step in my PhD journey.

Successful Science Education Practices: Exploring What, Why and How They Worked.

2013 has been a big year for me and publishing book chapters 🙂

The above book was published at the beginning of this year. I am excited that the price has become more realistic, for both educators and students to purchase. This is a science focused, peer reviewed text that looks at current practices in classrooms across the world.

Here is the blurb from the Nova Site:

Book Description:
This book has been designed to provide a conduit for the pre-service and beginning teacher of science to access contemporary educational research. The chapters offer researched forms of classroom practices that are also easy to transfer into classrooms. The teaching of chemistry, biology, astronomy and physics, and Primary Science teaching, are discussed with a focus on new technology tools, as well as important topics for the new teacher of science. This includes providing different types of feedback; the value of developing a supportive network of colleagues; planning for science teaching effectively; the types and contribution of models in science teaching and how they contribute to thinking, great ways to utilize demonstrations; and challenging the learners’ alternative conceptions. New technologies are pervasive in many chapters, and are used to enrich and deepen the learning experiences possible for learners. (Imprint: Nova)”

The chapter I contributed: “Chapter 15. Teachers’ Secret Stories: Using Conversations to Disclose Individual and Team Stories of Planning”, was written when I was contemplating returning to study my PhD. Writing it reminded me how much I enjoy working with teachers and re-telling their stories. It was also one of the early personal ‘tests’ of my organisation, as I was figuring out the logisitics of finding time to write amongst part time work and volunteering my time in schools too. So, on a few different levels this chapter was a step building towards my confidence to undertake my current PhD Journey. As always, thanks to BB for this opportunity and supporting my development in this aspect of my writing.

I wonder what you enjoy about research? Please share in the comments below.

Until next time,

Fiona T

 

Literature Review and Confirmation: Preparing for Milestones

Over the last few weeks I have been busily writing and preparing for PhD Milestones, as well as starting back at work. It has been very busy! It is times like this when my PhD is clearly not just ‘my’ study, it is something my whole family and extended network are supporting, and in a very real way, working towards too. Thank you to everyone on my ‘team’!

When writing both the lit review and confirmation paperwork I found it difficult at first to hone all the ideas and supporting reading I have done in the last year, into one document. This troubled me, as I knew the ideas I was putting forward had come from great books, papers and sources. I went through my folder (with only a handful of printed articles) and combed through my far more extensive Mendeley data base. I went decidedly ‘non-paperless’ and bought post-it notes to help make sense of key ideas, references and quotes (thanks BB for this strategy), sticking them on a wall into a huge concept map. This concept map helped to form the first of what will be a continual editing process for the next few years of my (soon to be part time) PhD study.  Below is a panorama of the ‘wall’ in progress. I was able to take each key idea and write the sections far more comprehensively than the first attempt. panorama phd wall 2I am more determined to keep clearer notes to organise my reading and references. Mendeley will allow this, I just need to be more consistent. The ‘import to mendeley’ plugin for my browser often doesn’t transfer the authors of blogs/websites, and I now know I need to put these in straight away, as it is too time consuming to amend these records while writing. As I write more and more of my thesis, I am sure I will get more streamlined in the process of storing my references in a style that works for me.

This week I am continuing to prepare for my Confirmation Presentation, and at this stage I am more excited than nervous. Writing the confirmation paperwork has further consolidated my study focus, and what I hope to contribute from the research. Again, planning for and working towards these milestones can’t be easily done in a short space of time. My advice to those starting on the journey is to be aware from the beginning where these milestones fall and plan towards them, don’t avoid them. Even though I have been writing outlines towards this since November last year, I still feel like I could have developed the paperwork further if I had ‘more time’. Perhaps this is the lesson…working within a time frame is in itself a discipline that we need to embrace instead of lament. What do you think? How do you work to deadlines?

Until next week

Fiona T

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year, time to get organised again!

Happy New Year to all of my followers. I have taken a little time out these holidays, and not looked at anything work or thesis related for just over a week. Now I am getting back into the swing of things and preparing for a year of full time work, PhD confirmation in March and then data collection. There are a number of considerations when planning for this year to run smoothly. These include making realistic timelines and goals. With this ‘realistic’ idea in mind, I will be changing my blogging to be fortnightly for this blog, and monthly for my other blog (One Mad Tatter). I have also gotten back into meal planning in a serious way, and have set up my calendar until the end of March with nutritious weekday dinners that either WH or I can prepare quickly. I have added a Sunday cooking list to the calendar too, so that some bulk cooking and preparation can be done for the week ahead. Today I am making some yoghurt, flat bread to freeze and a big batch of bolognaise sauce to freeze too.

Thinking about getting more organised with my writing and thesis, I was trawling through some draft posts I have on wordpress and found this link to Michael Hyatt’s post on organising Evernote for maximum efficiency. How to Organize Evernote for Maximum Efficiency | Michael Hyatt. Having over 1,000 notes now, I think it is a good time of year to sort and tag my notes to increase my ease of searching in the future. Another feature of Evernote is that you can sort the notes that contain checkboxes, which is great as I am a fan of check boxes, and use them to indicate my ‘to-do’ tasks.

 

Knowing that any plan is only going to work if it is actioned, I’d better get into the cooking 🙂

Fiona T.

 

 

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